Dogs understand human behavior better than most people believe, according to a new research.
Researchers in Hungary undertook a study to examine how canines are able to sense emotion in human voices. They trained 11 dogs to sit still in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner (fMRI). The scientists recorded brain function in the canines as they listened to 200 human and dog sounds, including crying and laughing.
A group of human subjects was then put through a similar experience. The purpose behind this experiment was to answer the question of "how do dogs process dog sounds, and how similar it is to the way humans process human sounds?".
Both humans and dogs responded to the greatest degree when hearing sounds from members of their own species. When hearing happy sounds, both dogs and humans showed increased activity in the primary auditory complex.
One of the differences between the species noted during the study was dogs respond more than humans to non-vocal noises.
A part of the brain controlling voice and speech developed in a common ancestor of humans and dogs 100 million years ago. Researchers conducting the study suggest this development was passed on in similar forms to both human beings and canines. The family trees of human beings and dogs split from one another around that time. Both the common ancestor, and the amount of time which has elapsed since it lived, assisted researchers in the study.
"In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance," the Hungarian team wrote in the article detailing the study.
If brains of both species have similar structures, they could handle social clues in much the same way as one another. This could also partly explain the special bond between humans and dogs.
"This method offers a totally new way of investigating neural processing in dogs. At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment," Attila Andics, of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary, wrote in the press release.
Dog lovers often say their canine companions understand feelings and emotions. This study confirms that widely-held belief. It also provides a basis for the understanding.
Although dogs will not usually sit still long enough to create a fMRI images, scientists conducting the study rewarded them with treats and petting until they stayed stationary for enough time to conduct the test.
Details of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.